Technology will kill the 9-to-5 work week, says Richard Branson

The billionaire entrepreneur predicts the rise of technology will soon force society to rethink the modern work week.

(Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
  • Branson made the argument in a recent blog post published on the Virgin website.
  • The 40-hour work week stems from labor laws created in the early 20th century, and many have said this model is becoming increasingly obsolete.
  • The average American currently works 47 hours per week, on average.

Have you ever had a 'case of the Mondays,' or remarked that you can't believe it's 'hump day' already, or said TGIF to a coworker at the end of a regular, 9-to-5 week? The chances are that, as A.I. continues to improve, you'll soon be able to retire these awful sayings because the work week is poised to undergo a major transformation.

That's the idea behind a recent blog post written by entrepreneur Richard Branson, who's established flexible work arrangements at his company Virgin Management.

"The idea of working five days a week with two day weekends and a few weeks of holiday each year has become ingrained in society. But it wasn't always the case, and it won't be in the future," Branson wrote.

"As Google's Larry Page and others have said, the amount of jobs available for people is going to decrease as technology progresses. New innovations will drive industries forward, but they will also reduce our reliance on people power," Branson wrote. "Ideas such as driverless cars and more advanced drones are becoming a reality, and machines will be used for more and more jobs in the future. Even pilot-less planes will be become the reality in the not too distant future."

Brief history of the modern work week

The 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday work week might sound tiring and overly regimented to us now. But establishing this relatively new labor model was considered a victory for workers in the 19th and 20th centuries who, in various movements worldwide, organized to demand better labor conditions and regulation. In the early 20th century, for instance, many Americans worked brutally long hours in terrible conditions before Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which essentially created the modern American work week that we know today.

But recently some have questioned the utility of the model, citing how technology enables people to work remotely, jobs are different than they once were, and studies that suggest a shorter workday, even one that's just three hours long, actually increases productivity. (Some research suggests, by the way, that most workers are only productive for a few hours a day.)

​Inevitable changes

For better or worse, technology might soon force us to reshape modern conceptions of the work week. That's primarily because A.I. is poised to threaten many human jobs, not necessarily just the menial ones, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk suggested to the National Governors Association in 2017.

There certainly will be job disruption. Because what's going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us. . . I mean all of us.

In November, for instance, Lexus released the first TV commercial scripted by an A.I., suggesting that a fraction of the marketing industry could someday be replaced by algorithms that use vast amounts of consumer data to build advertisements. That might take a while. But robots are already replacing other human jobs, such as floor cleaners, and potentially burger flippers, at Walmart.

Still, it's worth noting that, for Musk at least, working less hours isn't necessarily a good thing, assuming you want to leave behind a legacy.

"There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week," Musk said, referring to his four companies, Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, and Neuralink. Musk, who once said he was working 120 hours per week at Tesla, was asked on Twitter how many hours people should work if they want to change the world.

"Varies per person, but about 80 sustained, peaking above 100 at times," he said. "Pain level increases exponentially above 80."

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